Arts and Culture

Louisville’s Bunbury Theatre Company and the Chicago-based Shpiel Performing Identity have teamed up to explore Jewish and other ethnic identities in Louisville.

Bunbury’s upcoming production, of “RED” by John Logan is the first to be explored through this “identity theatre” process. Opening February 16, it is about the life, work, and art of Mark Rothko.

“The actors are actually painting on-stage while the performance is going on, while Mozart is playing on the stereo,” said Juergen Tossman, producing artistic director of Bunbury. “And it’s an amazing piece of theater.”

But, said David Chack of Spiel, much of Rothko’s work came “deeply from his Jewishness and his Jewish roots.”

“He was brought up in Russia, experienced — and of course the Jewish people experienced — pogroms, expressions of antisemitism, violence” Chack said.

He continued: “[His art] was a way to express himself and we see when we look at his works more directly — and we will bring this out in community talk-backs, a series of panels — they come of his study of the Talmud, his knowledge of Jewish mysticism, his over 20 years of teaching at a Jewish school in Brooklyn, New York.”

The Bunbury-Shpiel collaborative will unpack these connections through their production of the play.

Additionally, the group is planning to explore and commission other works that deal specifically with identity.

Chack and Tossman said this type of theater is especially important right now because, as they said in a release, “the recent rise of anti-Semitism, white nationalism, and attacks against other ethnicities, races, religions, and genders demonstrate that a cultural and communal understanding is needed more than ever.”

This initiative is grant-funded for two years through the Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence. More information about “Red” is available here.

Ashlie Stevens is WFPL's Arts & Culture Reporter.